Towering frontman Rudy Gestede scored a timely double as Middlesbrough boosted their dwindling Championship play-off hopes with a 3-1 win over Hull City.
Gestede, who had scored just one league goal before the clash at the Riverside, netted twice either side of half-time to move Tony Pulis’ side to within two points of the top six. City remain outside the relegation zone on goal difference.
Following Gestede’s opener in the eighth minute, Boro had looked comfortable for the majority of the first half before City midfielder Evandro equalised in the 41st minute.
Patrick Bamford restored the hosts’ lead on the stroke of half-time, before Gestede secured the points after the break.
Pulis sticks with Gestede as Assombalonga sits out
Boro had scored just twice in their last five games in all competitions but there was still no place for top scorer Britt Assombalona.
The striker, who netted 11 times in 16 games earlier in the campaign, has started just one of Boro’s last six games and has been continuously overlooked since the appointment of Pulis.
Pulis originally made just one change following his side’s 1-0 defeat to Cardiff City on Saturday. It saw Patrick Bamford return on the left flank as Jonny Howson dropped to the bench.
Then, just 10 minutes before kick-off, the hosts were forced to make another alteration after Ben Gibson pulled out of the squad with an illness and was replaced by Dael Fry.
The defensive reshuffle didn’t appear to trouble the hosts in the early exchanges, and Pulis’ men were quick to assemble into shape whenever they conceded possession.
Despite a 4-0 hammering at Chelsea in the FA Cup last time out, Hull were searching a second successive league win for the first time since April 2017.
Visitors change to back three
The Tigers welcomed back on-loan Chelsea trio Micheal Hector, Ola Aina and Fikayo Tomori, who were all ineligible to play at Stamford Bridge.
Manager Nigel Adkins also reverted to a back three, a decision which looked questionable when the visitors’ backline was almost breached after just five minutes.
Adama Traore utilized the space vacated by Aina, the City wing-back, and the flanker’s cross was headed onto the far post by Gestede.
It wasn’t long before the Boro forward was celebrating, though, when Ryan Shotton’s cross in the 16th minute was flicked-on by Bamford and Gestede was on hand to nod the ball past Allan McGregor.
Hull had rarely threatened up to that point, and another burst from Traore almost saw them fall further behind just before the half-hour mark.
The speedy winger cut in from the right before poking the ball into the path of Gestede, only for the forward to take a heavy first touch and be thwarted by Michael Dawson.
Yet, Boro failed to make their dominance count and were pegged back in the 41st minute after switching off from at a corner.
Pulis was incensed that the corner was awarded in the first place, but his side were naive and slow to react when Jon Toral rolled the ball into the path of Evandro on the edge of the area and the Hull midfielder stroked the ball home first time.
Bamford fires Boro back ahead
Fortunately for Boro they were gifted a golden opportunity to retake the lead on the stroke of half-time, when a loose pass provided Bamford with a clear route to goal and the Boro striker made no mistake, dinking a tidy finish over McGregor.
Hull made a bright start to the second half as Fraizer Campbell tested Randolph, however Adkins side fell further behind 13 minutes after the restart.
Once again Traore was the catalyst as he jinked past Aina before setting up Gestede to make it 3-1 with an instinctive backheel.
Hull’s best chance to close the deficit came in the 70th minute when Campbell’s effort was cleared off the line by Ayala, but the hosts were pretty comfortable after that.